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Outpouring of support for Down’s Syndrome abortion case

13 July 2021

Relatives of people with a disability have expressed support for a legal challenge of UK abortion laws led by disabled rights campaigner Heidi Crowter.

In a series of letters to the Sunday Times, parents and siblings of people with a disability expressed deep upset that current legislation allows abortion up to term in cases of ‘serious handicap’ – a rule Crowter is seeking to overturn.

One letter, from parents Dr and Mrs C Mackay, in Devon, states:

“Our son was born with severe talipes in 1979. He was described as handicapped and mixed race when we adopted him as a baby. After incompetent and ineffective treatment for a year at a local hospital, we had him transferred to Westminster Children’s Hospital (now closed). He had a number of operations on both legs until he was six. His legs are still thin, but his mobility has been only slightly limited. His two children do not have the condition.

“We suspect that because of his childhood experience he was determined to be a surgeon, an ambition that he has achieved: he is now a very successful senior consultant surgeon in Australia. Thank goodness his birth mother did not opt for a termination.”

Another submission, from Yvonne Williams, in Malaga, states:

“My darling brother would have been 77 this year but sadly passed away at 59. He was a very special person, loving, kind and helpful, and just happened to have Down’s syndrome. My mum and dad were just 22 when he was born during the war and had no idea at first that he had Down’s. Despite several doctors telling them he would never be any use to anyone and they should put him away, they kept him at home and founded a school to cater for children with learning difficulties, for in those days he was not given the right to schooling.

“OK, so he could never really communicate extensively, but I can tell you he taught me more than anyone else has ever taught me. He taught me to care for others, humility, humanity, kindness, and even now not a day goes by when I don’t cherish his lovely life. It’s true he could not work, though many with Down’s can, and he needed special care, but the love and humour he expressed were a gift from God. To me, and my parents and my sister, he was perfect.”

And Paul Attard, writing from Basque Country, Spain, said:

“Our Down’s son is now 43; his quality of life has been wonderful. He doesn’t think of the future or what he may or may not do. He has been on adventure holidays, ridden quad bikes and been snorkelling, and he has a secure home life. He has enriched all those who meet him, especially his brother and sister. The quality of life of those with Down’s is as good as, if not better than, ours.”

In England, Scotland and Wales, abortion is generally permitted up to 24 weeks gestation. However, if a child is thought to have a physical or mental impairment they can be aborted at any time.

The landmark case brought by Heidi Crowter, a 26-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, 33, whose son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, seeks to overturn this rule and place a cap on abortion at 24-weeks in every case.

Speaking before going into court, Heidi Crowter said:

“I find it extremely offensive that a law doesn’t respect my life, and I won’t stand for it. I want to change the law and I want to challenge people’s perception of Down’s syndrome.”

Máire Lea-Wilson said:

“I have two sons who I love and I value equally and I can’t understand why the law doesn’t.

“I want Aidan to grow up knowing he’s not someone people have to cope with, he’s not a burden to society, he is a wonderful human being in his own right. And so I want the law to change so that the rules for a typical baby apply for those with Down’s syndrome.”

The two day hearing concludes on Wednesday last week. The judgment is expected in the coming months.

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